Open Health App Review – What Is Breathwork? – Esquire

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And you may already have all the tools you need at home!
It’s a fresh new year, and if you’re looking to greet it with some healthier habits, I have something wonderful to share. A new wave in wellness has arrived, and it is as challenging as it is therapeutic as it is, legitimately, life-changing. It’s called “breathing,” and you may have the tools to get started right now.
No, seriously: breathing. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. “Breathwork” is a broad term for any number of guided practices wherein one breathes deeply and rhythmically. It’s a more engaging form of meditation—one that has an instant and undeniable effect on the body. “Breathwork is so immediate, and it’s such an active practice, that it can really grab you out of the anxiety or stress or depression that you’re in,” says Raed Khawaja, the co-founder and CEO of a wellness app called Open, which offers a library of live and on-demand sessions. “Without being able to speak about it scientifically,” he says, “I can tell you I feel different on the other side of a breath work experience.”

I can second that. My introduction to the power of this practice came during a visit to the Open office in Venice, CA, last autumn. Khawaja and his colleagues hosted an in-person session, and because I will try anything once—even in Venice—I gave it a whirl. After a quick disclaimer that the practice may induce lightheadedness, tingling, and sensations of heat and coolness, I laid down on a mat and inhaled and exhaled to the rhythm of live music. Three-part breathing: fill the belly, fill the chest, let it out. Fill the belly, fill the chest, let it out. And again, and again, for 20 minutes. That was it, and it was a lot. I did feel the lightheadedness and the tingling and the heat and the coolness, but I came out of it feeling sharper, more energized. The world had suddenly switched into high-definition.
So what’s actually happening in the body when you’re doing this practice? “We’re playing with the nervous system,” says Open breathwork facilitator George Ramsay. “There are two branches to the nervous system: the parasympathetic that rests and digests, and the sympathetic, which is fight or flight.” As you may know if you’ve ever had a panic attack, short and shallow breaths feed that sympathetic branch that makes you hyperaware, where deeper and slower breaths chill you out and activate that parasympathetic. Rhythmic breathwork incorporates a bit of both, leaving you with the sharpness of the sympathetic and the chill of the parasympathetic. You’re wide awake, but calm. Will Neil DeGrasse Tyson find issue with the science here? Maybe. But I feel good, so who cares?
Breathwork is a daily reboot for me now, a more reliable midday energy boost than a cup of coffee. So where’s it been all my life? “A single-digit percentage of people in the US have even heard about breathwork,” Khawaja says. “Yoga started to grow in the ‘90s and early aughts, now it’s pretty mainstream here. Meditation took that route around 2010. Breathwork is still nascent.” As he sees it, the lack of awareness comes from a resistance to the way the whole wellness space is packaged: “A lot of it is delivered in a very woo-woo context, and then there are meditation apps that try to win over the hyper-rational people by talking about the clinical research.” Open takes the middle path: “We just want to get this practice in front of people and make it stupid easy and fun.”
There is also the challenge of getting male and male-identifying people to take on any kind of non-iron-pumping wellness practice. Khawaja notes that between 80 and 90 percent of activity in the yoga and wellness space is female. The fitness world still largely panders to men in the language of work: lift this, run there, sweat. But breathwork is internal, sometimes emotional. “Men are masters at emotional avoidance,” Ramsay says. “Intuitively, some of us know that if we practice breathwork, we’re going to have to be more connected to what’s happening in our bodies. And sometimes that’s emotion that’s been pushed down.” But as scary is it can be to face what we’ve been repressing, there can be breakthroughs on the other side. For Ramsay, they came instantly: “At the end of my first-ever session, I was sobbing. I was about to go to grad school, and I got clarity that I wasn’t supposed to do that, I got clarity on the relationship I’m now in. Every time I did it, I found new clarity.”
Now, you may run into a tiny bit of stress searching for this app. Try “Open wellness” or “Open mindfulness,” otherwise any number of other apps called “Open” will come up, and most of them will be for swingers. (We each have our own ways of centering ourselves, and I am not here to judge.) But once you’ve found it, you’ll be met with a variety of breathwork sessions, from quick three-minute bites to half-hour exercises so intense they’re not recommended for people with high blood pressure. As with Peloton, they are guided by a regular cast of instructors. “We want people to connect with their teachers, and feel like they’re hanging out with them,” Khawaja says. “We can deliver an experience that gives you wisdom and teaching, but is also entertaining.” There is also an impressive collection of live and on-demand yoga and Pilates classes and daily guided meditations. And unlike a lot of wellness apps, the communication can be two-way; Open’s web platform gives the user the option to turn on their webcam and allow the teacher to see you and tweak your form.
The Open app is doing a 31-day breathwork challenge through the month of January, if you’re looking to start a new practice and make it a habit. (I know we’re into January by now; double up on a few days and you can still make it. You’ll want to anyway.) I’ve been at this daily practice for about three months now, and while there are immediate rewards like increased energy and a less-foggy brain, I’m also sleeping better and my blood pressure is a bit lower. I’m a believer. Physiologically, there is still an element of mystery to it, for me and for Khawaja, and that’s okay: “You don’t need to know what specifically the acetaminophen is doing, if the headache goes away.”
Download Open and start a 14-day trial here.


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